Taiwan Researchers Prove Slightest Amount of Pesticide Harms Bees

Taiwan Researchers Prove Slightest Amount of Pesticide Harms Bees
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What you need to know

Human lives relate closely to bees, and over a third of our crops rely on bee pollination to survive. But in recent years, many parts of the world have seen a large number of bees disappear from the ecosystem.

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Translated by Bing-sheng Lee
Edited by Olivia Yang

Yang En-cheng, professor of the Department of Entomology at National Taiwan University (NTU), has confirmed that merely one part per billion (ppb) of imidacloprid, a systemic insecticide, can have a negative influence on bees. Yang says, “The symptoms are not shown when a bee is still a larvae, but its memory and learning ability would be damaged after eclosion.” It was also found that the residual imidacloprid in the insect’s food and honeycomb extends its harm to the next generation of bees.

News&Market reports, Yang and Peng Yi-chan, a researcher from the same department, published their research on Nature, a prestigious scientific academic journal, on January 13. Yang explained that they fed bee larva with imidacloprid and anatomized them after their exclusion. They found that the mushroom bodies, which are responsible for a bee’s memory and learning, show signs of malfunction.

Yang says, “The US has admitted that 25 ppb can cause damage, but our research proves that larva could be harmed even with only one ppb.” Their follow-up research will focus on the impacts that imidacloprid might have on the other physiological systems of bees.

TEDxTaipei reports, human lives relate closely to bees, and over a third of our crops rely on bee pollination to survive. But in recent years, many parts of the world have seen a large number of bees disappear from the ecosystem. Maria Spivak, a bee expert, explains that since World War II, the number of bees in the US has been cut more than a half, but crop plants that require pollination by bees have grown three times in scale around the world.

Four reasons causing bees to disappear:

1. Chemical fertilizers cause malnutrition in bees: We have changed the way of farming over the years; in traditional farming, trefoils and clovers, good nutrition sources for bees, are used to fertilize the plants. However, these days, farmers no longer apply these traditional fertilizers, but rather replace them with a huge amount of chemicals, which deprives bees of their nutrition sources.

2. Herbicides also obliterate food for bees: Modern farming applies many herbicides to kill flowering plants among crops, but bees cannot live without those plants.

3. Insecticides stop bees from flying back to their hives: Research studies have shown that pollen carried by bees is tainted by at least six types of pesticides, including a strong toxicant, neonics. When consuming too many toxicants from plants, bees are prone to die. Insecticides of less toxicity can impede the navigation of bees, disabling them from bringing back pollen to feed their larva.

4. Parasites and viruses have become rampant: Varroas, the nemesis of bees, damage a bee’s immune system and spread viruses, inhibiting the growth of bees and reducing their life expectancy.

PanSci reports, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one of the five neonics pesticides is the main reason leading to bees dying. A research study has discovered that 25 ppb of neonics pesticides can impact the pollinating efficiency of bees and their honey production.

Probably under pressure from major pesticide manufacturers, EPA has not admitted the impact of these pesticides on bees until now. Finding a substitute for those insecticides is most urgent.

Awakening News reports, crops and plants worth NT$120 million (approximately US$3.5 million) to NT$200 million (approximately US$6 million) produced each year in the UK rely on pollination to reproduce. Once big populations of bees start to vanish, meager harvests and large-scale food shortages follow.

The southern part of Sichuan Province in China has also seen the extinction of bees because of insecticide overuse, causing heavy damage to local pear farms. Today, the local farmers need to pollinate through labor, which raises the cost significantly.

Researchers of Lund University in Sweden point out that some chemicals in pesticides have addictive effects on bees. These chemicals are intended to damage the nerve system of pests, but might also harm that of bees.

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